Hot topic: Mental health at work, part two

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Can businesses and HR help improve the country's attitude to mental health, and where does the responsibility for this lie?

I’m delighted Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a shadow minister for mental health. This move will put focus back on the parity of esteem and continues the great work of Vince Cable. But when many employers have a culture of silence on mental health issues people are suffering and it isn’t talked about – so therefore it can’t be managed.

BITC works with employers to embed wellbeing into culture, with a focus on mental health. As our report Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk – One Year On shows, in just 12 months we’ve made significant progress through our alliance with Mind/Time to Change. By encouraging employers to sign up to Time to Change’s pledge to elevate mental health to the same level as physical health we’ve helped half a million people.

Our next piece of research, launching on Time to Talk Day (4 February 2016), will focus on wellbeing and line managers. They are vital in driving the culture shift, yet a team member telling them about a mental health problem is many managers’ worst nightmare. HR can help by ensuring line managers receive training on how to manage and nurture their own wellbeing and that of their team, as well as spotting the early warning signs of a mental health issue, being informed about resources to support team members, and developing their own coping strategies.

The challenge is to ensure mental health is normalised in the workplace in the same way as physical health. There is a compelling business and moral case for doing so – lost productivity due to mental health issues costs £1035 per employee per year. HR has a role to play, but there must be a collective effort, rather than wellbeing sitting in the HR box.

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